Archive for March, 2016

blog_Isabel-Toledo-Roots-of-Style-bookFashion is ephemeral. It is the flavor of the day, and useful for refueling your style inspiration when you feel you’ve run out of gas. Fashion is easy to apply because it’s all surface.

Style on the other hand, is an effective way to carve out your individuality. Style is content. A person with true style is displaying a fertile and thinking mind.

– Isabel Toledo, American fashion designer.

This quote is from Ms. Toledo’s autobiography, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion (Celebra, 2012). I enjoyed her story starting out in Cuba and moving to America with her family when she was young enough to see it as a big adventure. I also appreciate her positive attitude and of course her amazing talent, which began with desire to see how machines work and soon shifted to how clothing is constructed.


Illustrations by Ruben Toledo. From Roots of Style.

A unique voice in fashion, Ms. Toledo started out in the 1980s and is one of the few who has remained independent, not selling out to big corporations. She gave up Fashion Week back in the 90s, seeing where it was headed. Her husband Ruben (they met in high school) is a fashion illustrator and her business partner. His illustrations are throughout the book helping to expand the narrative. Love his style … hers too.

Great book! Read it!

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Nancy Reagan sporting a dress by one of her go-to designers, Oscar de la Renta.

She became a symbol of American fashion, the truly, really American fashion, in every way — not just the way she was running the White House but the way she looked every time. She

was perfect. That is the legacy that we will remember with all the dignity and all the honor she had for this country — and love for this country. She was very strong, but very dedicated to who she was. She had that very clear in her mind.
– Carolina Herrera, American fashion designer.
Ms. Herrera was speaking to WWD about Nancy Reagan who passed away at 94 on Sunday March 6, 2016.
Nancy Reagan as an older woman and First Lady always dressed well and appropriately for her station in life. I never considered her a symbol of American fashion but perhaps at the time she was. Perhaps, all First Ladies are current reflections of American fashion.

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Ask anyone who had the pleasure of meeting American fashion designer Oscar de la Renta – the man was: a gentleman, a loyal friend, humble, generous, gracious, and … “full of wicked charm,” according to his close friend and former fashion Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley.

Certainly this kind of affection for Mr. de la Renta can be felt in the current exhibition Oscar de La Renta: A Retrospective at the de Young museum in San Francisco. During the press preview last week, Dede Wilsey, President of the Board of Trustees of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco shared that this exhibit was a true labor of love, “It was like having a baby for a really long time but it turned out to be a beautiful baby.”

Ms. Wilsey, who had been a good friend of Mr. de la Renta’s, explained that she approached him with the idea of a retrospective in 2014 at the annual Saks Fifth Avenue and the League to Save Lake Tahoe Fashion Show, something he had supported for years. He resisted at first saying “it’s ostentatious” but by the end of the day he agreed. “Two months later he was dead,” Ms. Wilsey said in an unusually shaky voice. He had lost his battle with cancer.


One of Andre Leon Talley’s favorite pieces owned and often worn by Annette de la Renta. Black tulle, black silk taffeta applique. 2005

Guest curated by Mr. Talley, this exhibit is a simple representation of Mr. de la Renta’s long career designing elegant clothing for well-heeled ladies. He dressed First Ladies (Republicans and Democrats alike), socialites and celebrities. Nancy Reagan, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Dede Wilsey, Anna Wintour, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Taylor Swift were just some on the list of happy clients. “He lived the world he dressed,” Mr. Talley said, explaining his success.

Oscar de la Renta was born in 1932 to a prominent family in the Dominican Republic. In his youth he left for Spain to study art and ended up becoming a sketch artist for Balenciaga. From there he moved to Paris to design for Lanvin and then America to work for Elizabeth Arden. By the 1960s he was running his own design house and in 1969 he became an American citizen.


Tailor Swift sporting de la Renta in 2014. Photo courtesy of FAMSF.

Included in this exhibition are pieces loaned from Fashion Institute of Technology, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kent State University and private collectors, including his second wife, Annette. Among the standouts are Taylor Swift’s peach silk organza gown and Sarah Jessica Parker’s now iconic black and white Duchesse satin and velvet gown with de la Renta’s signature on the train … in red! There are just a few of his early designs on display from the 1960s and a smattering of day wear. Most of the exhibit is made up of evening dresses from the 1990s on. The collection of 130 pieces is arranged by what inspired the designer over the years, such as his beloved garden. (He was an avid gardener.)


Evening ensemble coat & pants. Silk taffeta and silk embroidery. 2000.

Among my favorites were in the Eastern Influence gallery. A more casual yet still elegant collection, I liked the fabrics, rich colors, and retro feel to the designs.


Evening dress. Black silk velvet with white silk embroidery. Photo courtesy of FAMSF.

Mr. de la Renta favored luxurious fabrics – silk and satin, brocade, velvet, and tulle. He embellished with feathers, beading or jewels and a touch of mink or fox fur can be found on coat collars, cuffs, and even on the bottom of a pair of evening pants. It is said of him that he lived to make women feel beautiful.

Walking through this exhibit, the focus is on the clothing. Aside from a couple of video loops – one is of the designer’s expansive garden in Kent and the other is footage of celebrities on various red carpets – there is little technology and few additions besides the occasional decorative piece or chair borrowed from the museum’s collection. But actually, no enhancement is needed and the lack of distraction is a welcome change. Muted lighting and quiet surroundings make for a peaceful, reflective experience.

Oscar de la Renta: A Retrospective is on now through May 30th, 2016, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.









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Close friends Oscar de la Renta and Andre Leon Talley, 2005. Photo courtesy of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Oscar de la Renta was a great man, a great American designer and at all times a winner, crisscrossing the fashion globe from Madrid to Paris to New York and living his life on paths of joy. One of those joys was witnessing women wear his clothes, whether they were famous or not. He would meet them on the road, on his tours throughout the United States and at trunk shows. And if he saw anyone he knew wearing his dress, he would often whisper in her ear quietly, ‘Thank you for wearing my dress.’

– Andre Leon Talley, former editor-at-large at Vogue.

Mr. Talley was a good friend of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta (1932-2014) and he has curated the current exhibition, Oscar de la Renta: A Retrospective, at the de Young in San Francisco.

Check back tomorrow for a review of the exhibition.

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Forbidden City - PresBall

Image courtesy of The Art Deco Society of California.

The Art Deco Society of California is all abuzz planning their annual Preservation Ball, coming up on April 2nd, 2016. Titled Forbidden City, this year’s ball is honoring the Golden Age of Chinese American nightclubs popular in the 1930s.

Event Chair and Programs Director, Theresa LaQuey says the ADSC had been kicking around the idea of this kind of theme for years. Then last spring when Theresa heard a radio segment on KALW about Chinatown nightclubs, she recalled that her musician father used to perform at a nightclub called Forbidden City. That was it, Theresa was inspired to make this theme finally happen.

“It was all made sweeter as the Art Deco World Congress was going to be held in Shanghai a few months prior to the ball,” says Theresa, who is also an accomplished seamstress and pattern designer for Simplicity. “We have had such great partnering from the Chinese American community and it is such an honor for us to celebrate their contributions to American culture.”

Forbidden City opened on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1938. The club was a popular exotic destination for the mostly Caucasian audience members dressed to the nines in the style of the times from the late 1930s through the 1950s when the club closed.

The ball will be held at everyone’s favorite Bimbo’s in San Francisco. Planned for the evening: the  Preservation Awards presentation (come meet the seven winners), silent auction, dancing, entertainment by Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, and a fashion show organized by San Francisco fashion designer Monique Zhang.

Part of the fun of attending the ball is of course, getting dressed up. It’s a formal affair requiring white tie, black tie, formal attire from the 1920s, 1930s, or 1940s. Many will want to add a touch of Chinese influence as a nod to the Forbidden City theme. Theresa suggests using accessories and color for Chinese styling – red, gold, jade green. “When it comes to things to avoid, it would be Chinese pajamas and Chinese men’s smoking jackets,” says Theresa.  “The idea is more about being someone who visits the Forbidden City nightclub, and their patrons wore standard American fashion.”

It’s the Art Deco Preservation Ball, Saturday April 2, 2016. Bimbo’s 365 Club, 1025 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco.

Oh, what fun. I can’t wait! How about you? Tickets are on sale now. Click here.



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NEW YORK, USA – SEPTEMBER: Oscar de la Renta walks the runway with models at the end of his fashion show ready to wear Spring Summer 1996 in September, 1996 in New York, USA. (Photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images) Photo courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

I want to make clothes that people will wear, not styles that will make a big splash on the runway.
– Oscar de la Renta (1932-2014)
Local fashionables are excited about the Oscar de la Renta retrospective exhibit opening March 12th at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young.

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Downton Abbey fan Lynnie Morgan donning one of her favorite hats. Photo courtesy of Lynnie Morgan.

One day in January I was waiting  in line at the post office when a nice looking woman walked in and stood behind me. After just a few seconds I felt a tap on my shoulder,

“Excuse me, are you a fan of Downton Abbey?”
“Yes, I watch Downton Abbey,” I replied.
“Oh I thought so, with your coat and hat.”
I was wearing a narrow fitting grey tweed coat and my old standby cloche-style cap, also in grey.
Of course we got talking and it turns out that my new friend Lynnie is not just a fan of DA but also of hats. In fact, it was the popular PBS show that inspired her to start sporting hats herself. She’s now an avid collector of vintage style chapeaux of all kinds. Lynnie is busy running her own licensed  daycare, Bunny Run but she was nice enough to take time for a Q&A with me about Downton Abbey and hats.
Have you been watching Downton Abbey from the beginning?
 I’ve been watching Downton Abbey from Season 3.  I streamed and binge-watched seasons 1 and 2. 
How did you hear about it?
I saw an ad for Downton on PBS. 
Are you a regular PBS viewer? 
HUGE PBS fan! I currently am watching not only Downton but Mercy Street as well as Antique Road Show.
What is it about DA that has grabbed you?
I love that era, setting, relationships, clothing and of course, the hats!
And now you collect hats – why hats in particular?
The hats on Downton Abby were just so beautiful. I looked for similar styles whenever we traveled. 
Did you ever sport hats before?
I have a lot of hair – my mother was Greek – so the hats I had worn before always made me overheat so I wasn’t particularly drawn to them in the past. Now I know better what looks good on me and what types of materials to choose.
How many hats in your collection and were do you find them? 
I have seventeen hats in my collection.  I Google “Hats” in the towns that we visit.  Monterey has a wonderful millinery shop as does Santa Rosa.  There is a ladies shop in Healdsburg that has FABULOUS hats – I believe it is called Bella’s and a giftshop in Solvang that has a wonderful selection.  Copperopolis by Angles Camp has a gift shop that has a small selection of nice hats, too!
Where do you don your hats? 
I wear my hats to church, out with girlfriends, and for weddings and other special occasions.
Do people comment?

Oh my goodness, people say the nicest things to me!  But they also say, “Oh I can’t wear hats.  They don’t look good on me.  But you look just darling in yours!!!”  I always thank them then tell them that they CAN wear hats, but that they have to figure out which style best suits their face shape and the style they like best!

What’s your favorite hat style? 
I like wide brimmed Garden Party hats like my fuchsia hat, but my very favorite is my straw cloche with a turned brim and flowers or embellishments on the side.
Since, Lynnie, you jumped ahead and now know all about the last episode of Downton Abbey, without any spoilers, please tell us a little bit about what we can expect.
You can expect the most brilliant writing from Julian Fellows!  You will feel complete peace and everlasting joy for the Crawleys, Barrows, Mosley and Baxter, Anna and Bates, cousin Isobel & Lord Merton (with help form Violet), Daisy and her new fellow, Andy (who in real life is dating Laura Carmichael, aka Edith)  not to mention Mrs. Patmore and Mr.  Mason.  There is no way I can not make this a spoiler!  Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “All’s well that ends well”?  Let’s just leave it at that!

Thank you, Lynnie. And keep sportin’ those hats!

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